Tuesday, July 19, 2011

With Love: Year 5 Of Oshii-Week


                        Without a need to stop along much of the same territory covered by friends who have actually published work regarding the film and art of Japanese auteur/anime legend, Mamoru Oshii, it felt right to go ahead and let readers in on what has become something of an annual ritual. That's right, at least one week out of the year becomes the time in which I turn the domicile into a bunker, as I break out all the films I own directed by the enigmatic Tokyoite. There isn't so much any rhyme or reason for this, except that there are many times in which I get on something of a contemplative kick, with a need for something a little more artistically ambitious. More interested in questions than declarations, and aesthetically beguiling to boot. And this side of only a handful of the world's filmmakers, Oshii's signatures fit this challenging bill nicely. 

Starting from last Monday thru Friday, I started up my player with films ranging from his animated to his live action output, and often in no specific order. (perhaps going from least to favorite- but even "off-day Oshii is far more interesting than the average jobber director.) And strangely enough, I went out of my way to avoid Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer(1984), as well as perhaps his most famous work, Ghost In The Shell (1995). And not because of any measure of dislike, except that these get more play per year than most, so it only felt proper to allow these to sit this year's edition out.

Monday:  Talking Head (1992)
Still something of a personal work among what are almost all personal works. This quasi-satirical look at the anime world from the view of a crew seeking to finish a famous director's latest opus after his disappearance is something of a film-school grade curiosity, rather than an actual film. Something that can still render most curious parties disinterested, packs some fascinating punch as it holds little back about the dregs of working on what is ostensibly product. With actors as representations of each level of what seems to be a three-legged table of undertaking, Talking Head is a bizarre, yet miraculous peek into the mind of a director who had yet to reach the peak of his popularity.

Tuesday: Innocence: Ghost In The Shell 2 (2004)
Still something of a status report, and not so much a sequel to the mid-90s landmark, Innocence is in many ways still a marvel of production that is weighted down by Oshii's inability to decide what it is he's trying to convey. Even when his lead Batou quotes passages left and right from Milton to La Mettrie, it is clear that our director is taking the support from Ghibli, and running with it towards making his own euro-styled art-house piece with cybernetically augmented agents. And while there are many astonishing images and moments to be had in the film, it is almost clear that success has only made Oshii that much more disinterested in the medium that granted him prominence

Wednesday: AVALON (2001)
Some might call it more ponderous beauty by Oshii, but is that really a bad thing? In the years before World Of Warcraft and Call Of Duty became monoliths of the gaming cyberspace, this post-Matrix vision of a society addicted is still a small wonder to behold. Filmed in Poland, and with an all-Polish cast, AVALON remains one of my personal favorite pieces of speculative science fiction art, and it seems to gather more power as time goes on. And a lot of it may be due to Oshii's often cool-handed treatment of the scripts he works out with frequent collaborator, Kazunori Ito. When they work together, there almost always seems to be a set of central relationships that are hinted at, rather than explicitly depicted. So when changes hit our leads, the are clocked via a facial expression, a sudden verbal outburst, or even an act of violence. For as much philosophy is shared and contemplated in his films, the humanity is almost always seen peeking from the corners..

Thursday: Patlabor: The Movie (1989)
Now this one's a bit of a cheat, I must admit. Because as fun as this one is, it does rank among my lesser favorite Oshii films. It is a compromised work, there is no doubt of this as the hands of not only the franchise's creative collective, HEADGEAR are looking to maintain the flavor of the television series, while Oshii clearly seems to be wishing to tackle the speculative baggage head-on. And what results is a fun, but fractured mess. Still, there are many great cast moments to be had, including "PIZZA DATE!" and Ohta beating the snot out of a runaway labor as the operator hangs inside helplessly. Much of the spirit of the series and OVAs is here, but one cannot help but feel like a creative tug-of-war was taking place. Which could only lead to...

Friday: Patlabor 2 (1993)
Not only my personal favorite Oshii piece, but possibly one of my favorite pieces of animated filmmaking, period. Taking an almost spiritual about-face from the franchise that spawned it, P2 is something of all things Oshii is capable of doing, and offers up one stimulating experience. Taking the premise of a world dependent upon machines to handle humanity's more arduous tasks, Japan is suddenly taken to task for all the sacrifices made to become an economic powerhouse. Unafraid to ask questions of Japan's roles in affairs of state, as well as the role of it's military, Oshii envisions a Japan in the grips of a conflict that may or may not reveal a longstanding array of facades to a public weaned on technical innovation. Not unlike neglected relationships, despite position, and social stature.  As difficult as it must have been to construct on a story level, this is perhaps the story Oshii had long been wanting to tackle with such an interesting world. While the fallout of this led to the eventual ending of HEADGEAR, and to the making of Izibuchi's lesser WXIII film, Patlabor 2 remains something of an anomaly in anime, something of a novel in animated form- ready to welcome repeat viewings from any point in time & bookmark.

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